Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song: A Guerilla Filmmaking Manifesto
In 1971, Melvin Van Peebles’s independently produced film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song became the top-grossing independent film of that year, helped usher in the blaxploitation genre, and served as the flag-bearer for independent filmmakers. Melvin’s original diary of his struggles to conceptualize, finance, film, and distribute Sweetback will become an indispensable guide for aspiring filmmakers. Melvin is the authentic pioneer, and his achievement—and the determination he displayed—are eye-opening and inspiring. As son Mario Van Peebles (who made his debut in Sweetback) recalls in his Introduction, “[Melvin] was forced to self-finance, constantly on the brink of ruin, his crew got arrested and jailed, death threats, and yet [at first] he refused to submit his film to the all-white MPAA ratings board for approval. The film then received an X rating. My dad, true to form, printed t-shirts that read ‘Rated X ... by an all white jury’ and made it part of his marketing campaign.” Mario reflects on his father’s example and contrasts Melvin’s guerrilla filmmaking with the possibilities—technological, economic, and cultural—open to filmmakers, especially black filmmakers, today. Photographs are included in this incredible filmmaking manifesto.
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